How to Use a Meat Thermometer for Superbly Tender Results

To ensure perfectly-cooked meat, check doneness with a meat thermometer. Learn the proper way to use one to accurately tell if your food is safe to eat.

Whether it's a juicy steak on the grill or your Thanksgiving turkey, it's extremely important to have an accurately calibrated meat thermometer in the kitchen. Not only does knowing how to use a meat thermometer ensure the meat is cooked to a safe internal temperature, but it also prevents you from overcooking the meat. No one wants a dry, tough chicken breast (or any meat). If you don't have a meat thermometer, stop reading, and go buy one now. You need one to be sure you're feeding your family safe food. There are many different cooking thermometers out there in a range of prices. To get you acquainted with meat thermometers, here's how to use the two main types as well as how to read a meat thermometer once you have it.

Dial Meat Thermometer in Pork Roast.jpg
A dial-type meat thermometer like this can be left in while cooking meat. Peter Krumhardt

Oven-Going Meat Thermometer

An oven-safe meat thermometer goes into any size or cut of meat (whole turkeys, roasts, chicken breast, you name it!) before roasting or grilling. This type of thermometer can remain in the meat while roasting in the oven or cooking on the grill.

To use a leave-in meat thermometer: Insert the thermometer at least two inches into the center of the largest muscle or thickest portion of the uncooked meat. The meat thermometer should not touch any fat, bone, or the pan. That would result in an inaccurate temperature reading. When the meat reaches the desired final temperature as specified in your recipe, push in the thermometer a little farther. If the temperature drops, continue cooking the meat. If it stays the same, remove the meat from the oven or grill.

To use an oven-going probe thermometer: Instead of the whole thermometer going in the oven, this trendy digital thermometer ($22, Target) has a wired probe that goes into your meat and attaches to a base that sits outside your oven. By using a probe thermometer, you can easily read what temperature your meat is without opening the door and letting heat escape. Most models also have programmable settings that you can set to alert you once your meat is at the desired temperature. That means you can broil your filet mignon to a perfect medium-rare (145 degrees Fahrenheit) without having to watch through the oven's window.

Cover meat with foil and let it stand about 15 minutes before carving. Its temperature will rise five to 10 degrees Fahrenheit during the standing time.

Instant-Read Meat Thermometers

Instant-read meat thermometers are available in both dial and digital varieties. These are inserted into the meat outside of the oven and give an instant reading (hence the name).

Analog instant-read thermometer: The stem of the thermometer ($13, Bed Bath & Beyond) needs to be inserted at least two inches into the food. For thinner foods, such as burgers and pork chops, insert the stem through the side of the meat cut to get an accurate reading. The thermometer will register the temperature in 15 to 20 seconds. This type of meat thermometer should not be left in food while it's cooking.

Digital instant-read thermometer: The thermometer's probe should be placed at least a ½-inch into the food and will register the temperature in about 10 seconds. A digital meat thermometer ($20, Walmart) can be used to check the doneness of larger cuts as well as thinner foods, such as burgers, steaks, and chops. The thermometer should not be left in the food while it's cooking.

Now that you've got a trusty meat thermometer, it's time to practice cooking your food to delicious (and safe) perfection. Make a show-stopping roast beef for your holiday spread. Create an easy chicken dinner on a busy weeknight. No matter what you're roasting or grilling, you can rest easy knowing it's properly cooked to the correct internal temperature.

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